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On Books: Gloating Villains [Jun. 24th, 2009|02:16 pm]
[Current Mood |awake]

Sometimes real life is visibly dramatic, and when I thought about the various complaints directed at fictional villains, I remembered that real-life villains do, in fact, do the things that fictional villains do (that are often considered a writer's ploy.)

Take, for instance, the villain gloating over the helpless victim.   Why doesn't he/she just kill the helpless victim (the hero, the hero's girlfriend, the lost prince, etc) before the victim or the victim's friends can kill the villain?

Because in real life villains gloat.   In my childhood, I dealt with a few bullies, and every one of them gloated over me and what they were going to do to me long enough for me to give them a blow to the solar plexus.  (And yes, that worked.  Those bullies did not bother me again.)   Sure enough, the villain gloated, giving the intended victim time to strike.  I observed the same behavior from bullies after someone else.  Trap, gloat, and either the victim did nothing (and got pounded) or the victim hit the bully in mid-gloat, and got away.

Persons in power and using it badly routinely gloat over those they know they have power over.   Bush43, smirking into the camera and announcing (in a gloating tone) that he didn't have to listen to any "nay-sayers" anymore.   The smirks and gloats of politicians with a safe majority.  Saddam Hussein, in 1990, gloating over a family in his power--fondling the child while the parents watched, as he announced his intentions for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Gloating in the moment of victory (any victory) is, I'm willing to bet, one of those deep biological things.  It feels good--so the gloaters do it more and more, every time they have a chance.  Feeling empowered is a good feeling.   And winning (anything) releases a little burst of testosterone (in men and women.) 

So when a villain gloats, in a book, that's not just to give the good guys a chance to pull a miracle rescue...it's because villains actually do gloat.

And so do even the best of us, even if we try to hide it from others...and ourselves. 


[User Picture]From: gunhilda
2009-06-24 08:46 pm (UTC)
Interesting observation.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-06-25 12:20 am (UTC)
When my mother taught me how to make a solar-plexus punch, I remember her telling me "Hit them while they're bragging." She had grown up in a neighborhood of boys, no girls, with a dominant and bullying big brother.

She taught me the punch, because there was a bully on the way home from school that I had to pass by every day, and he preyed on first grade girls in particular. I used it again in second grade, and a variant (using my heavily loaded, hard-cornered purse for extra power) in 8th grade.

The interesting thing to me, in light of all the theory stuff about how violence "never works" is that in two cases the bullies not only quit bullying me, they also quit bullying others after one humiliating (because I was a girl) knockdown. One of them in fact told me so years later and said it was a wake-up call for him. Probably part of the beneficial effect is that I had been specifically warned not to gloat, and not to pursue "final victory." It was more the way correction works among many social animals...the assumed victim whacks the bully once, and if the bully quits, that's it. Humans almost invariably want to rub it in, and that's doomed to create more conflict. I became a believer in limited violence--the negative reinforcement, not the punishment. (I also wanted to rub it in, but knew my mother would hear of it and I'd be in big trouble.)
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[User Picture]From: ebeeman
2009-06-25 12:34 am (UTC)
I think it also depends on the story, as to whether it's appropriate for a villain to gloat. In "Incredibles", for example, Syndrome =had= to. I feel that way about my chief villain in the young readers' book I'm working on now, as well.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-06-25 02:17 am (UTC)
The reason is came up today is that I was writing a scene in which a bad guy finds a good guy taking a bath...is sure he's helpless, and slows down his attack to enjoy the thrill. Then I thought, But that's so cliched. And then I thought, But this guy would. He's that kind of guy, and moreover I've seen it happen over and over in real life. Real life is a cliche sometimes.

I only let him gloat for a moment, though.

And some people are dangerous even in the bathtub.
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[User Picture]From: deliasherman
2009-06-25 12:59 pm (UTC)
Well, cliches come from somewhere, after all. People in the grip of genuine and extreme emotions usually say (and do) very, very banal things.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-06-25 01:30 pm (UTC)
Group-wide cliches come from real life, too, in many cases. A fellow writer who'd never worked for a large corporation tore to shreds an ambitious middle manager character. It was just a cliche, no corporation would tolerate such a person, things like that never happened in real life, etc. I had checked all the corporate characters, including that one, with friends who worked for four different large corporations in three different industries, all of whom felt that the corporate characters were dead-on right. They had seen those types, they had worked with those types, and the internal lower-mid-level power conflicts worked that way.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-06-25 02:17 am (UTC)
And may they continue to act in predictable and stupid ways...gives the non-sadistic/non-bullies a chance.
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